Social Media ROI: Preach the Intangibles

Getting lost in the 'noise' of social media

Over-hyped or untapped resource?

I’ll be the first to admit that within my ‘circle’ – social media has become a topic worthy of shrugs and eye-rolls. We’ve discussed and analyzed it time and time again, yet it remains at the forefront of almost every conversation. After all this time, it’s perception and value continues to be debated. Why should I spend so much time on the web? What value to my personal and professional brand can social networking provide?

For many of you reading this, your daily routine is saturated with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Before taking your morning shower you hop online to catch up on your Google Reader and @ replies. It’s not a coincidence, there’s good reason behind the success of interactive web applications. There’s a method to the madness.

As many of us are ‘in tune’ – there are many out there who aren’t on board – they don’t ‘get it’. My fiance, for example, doesn’t see the point in tweeting and commenting on other blogs, which is fine. In fact, I recommend dating/marrying someone who isn’t a web junkie (assuming you are). You need someone to pull you away from the laptop and, you know, encourage you to go live your life from time to time.

Companies all over the world are bringing on ‘community managers‘ to establish and manage their social networking inititives. So let’s take a look at it from a business perspective. Say your company sells running shoes – you’re not on Facebook, you have no idea what a ‘tweet’ is, and you’ve never read a blog in your lives. How do I, someone fully engrossed in the Web 2.0 world, convince you to jump on the bandwagon? How do i present an objective and measurable ROI? I need to prove to you that spending 8 hours a day blogging, tweeting, and running keyword searches about your kick-ass shoes is valuable to your companies bottom line. How can I (or you) turn a non-believer into a tweet-loving maniac? Preach the intangible factors that lead to tangible results and profit.

Social media: It’s like looking at me after you’ve had a few drinks. Hot stuff.

Getting a company set up into the world of social networking is easy. A few clicks here, a few keystrokes there and you’re ready to go. But becoming engrossed and connected with an online community – that takes time. Natural time that cannot be rushed or simulated. The challenge: how do you put a value on the time invested? A potential client wants to know, “Will I make $500 for every 50 tweets? Will I bring in 100 new customers for every blog post I write?”

What arises skepticism in many is the intangibility factor of social media. How can I measure that a blog post sparked a sale? How can I determine the value of posting on Facebook instead of Myspace? As with everything, there is a risk. “Why should I spend $10,000 in social media when I can put it into TV, radio, print, and other forms of web marketing? Is the potential pay-off worth the initial investment?”It’s true that other mediums may be more ‘safe’, but every individual, freelancer, and business should be active online. Here’s why:

A rapidly growing community (with no end in sight)

Twitter’s  active users grew by over 900% in the past year. Facebook capped the 150 million user milestone in February, and the number of bloggers continues to skyrocket. The statistics don’t lie. The masses are on the web, and not a little, a lot. The average time spent on the Internet per household? According to a study in late 2008, an average of over 32 hours per week! It’s not rocket science: More people = more impressions = more impact.

Precise and efficient PR

We’ve established that pretty much everyone is on the Internet, and they’re surfing the information super-highway often: On average, around 30% of the day, every day. Filtering through all the ‘noise’ may seem like a daunting task, and it can be – but through social networking and search engine optimization, you can pinpoint exactly what (or who) you want to target. Want to find out what shoes people are recommending? Search (in real time) on Twitter for ‘best running shoes‘ and voila! Pages and pages of running enthusiasts for you to connect with who are out there, right now, talking about shoes. Can you do that with a newspaper? With a commercial? Out of every 100 commercial viewers or newspaper readers, you may find 1 who’s actually interested in your product or service. Social media allows you to actively seek out your target demographic and instantly pinpoint your marketing and promotional efforts.

Relationship building

They call it social networking for a reason. It’s about NETWORKING - reaching out,  introducing your image and brand to new people. Starting a (real) dialogue. It’s not about simply selling the shoes, it’s about engaging a conversation about everything that goes with running. What music do you listen to when you work out? Are you participating in any upcoming marathons? The key here is to be genuine and interested. Don’t make people think that you care, actually care! Customers are the life-force of your business. Once they like you – once you establish that connection, they’ll be more willing to invest in your product (ahem, that means more money).

Enhanced perception and community branding

What’s the real benefit of spending all this time establishing a solid social media presence? Through each step, each new Facebook friend, every new follower on Twitter, you contribute to your overall ‘community brand’. In short, you enhance the perception of your product or service by intimately connecting with the people who matter most – your potential customers. Social media allows you to not only pinpoint your target audience, but form intimate connections; get people talking, swooning, and falling in love with your brand. When you reach out and show a customer they’re appreciated, they’ll be glad to spread the word and sing your praises.

Do I have your attention yet?

So what does it all mean? What am I getting at? Whether you’re a Fortune-500 company looking to invest millions or an individual wondering if social networking is worth your time to promote a new blog – the proof is in the pudding. In the world of social media, you get what you give. The more involved and engaged you are, the greater response you’ll see. Money makes the world go round, but we’re seeing a ‘back to basics’ approach being taken by companies of all shapes and sizes. That means getting back to how they got started through interacting with their consumers and fans. Taking the time to establish intimate relationships with the community will pay dividends (in the form of real dollars) in the end.


45 Responses
  • Kristina Reply

    I would love to contribute, but I don’t think I have anything to add. You have a great post here. All I would say is, from my experience with Twitter, I complete agree with your well thought out and eloquently written post.

    • Matt Reply

      Thanks Kristina – through both my personal and professional experiences, the unanimous ‘concern’ with making either a time or financial investment into social media engagement is the intangibility factor. There are ways to measure via click-throughs, analytics, etc. But overall, there is still a challenge when it comes to ‘selling’ people on the idea that they need to be involved within the social media web-o-sphere. But with that being said, once someone puts faith in the system, it very rarely disappoints.

      • Kristina Reply

        well, maybe show that the amount of time you put in on social media and the number of new clients gained as a result is comparable or even better (I don’t know, haven’t researched it)than tradition methods of getting new clients.

        Just a thought.

        • Matt Reply

          Agreed – there are a lot of great case study examples showcasing the value of putting time into social media and what it can do for an individual or companies’ brand. I’m a good example myself – Six months ago, none of you knew me, now, here you are, avid readers of my blog and part of the community I’ve developed through time and making an extra effort to reach out and intimately connect with each of you. The payoff is huge, what I’ve accomplished in a few months is all the proof I need.

  • Kristina Reply

    I would love to contribute, but I don’t think I have anything to add. You have a great post here. All I would say is, from my experience with Twitter, I complete agree with your well thought out and eloquently written post.

    • Matt Reply

      Thanks Kristina – through both my personal and professional experiences, the unanimous ‘concern’ with making either a time or financial investment into social media engagement is the intangibility factor. There are ways to measure via click-throughs, analytics, etc. But overall, there is still a challenge when it comes to ‘selling’ people on the idea that they need to be involved within the social media web-o-sphere. But with that being said, once someone puts faith in the system, it very rarely disappoints.

      • Kristina Reply

        well, maybe show that the amount of time you put in on social media and the number of new clients gained as a result is comparable or even better (I don’t know, haven’t researched it)than tradition methods of getting new clients.

        Just a thought.

        • Matt Reply

          Agreed – there are a lot of great case study examples showcasing the value of putting time into social media and what it can do for an individual or companies’ brand. I’m a good example myself – Six months ago, none of you knew me, now, here you are, avid readers of my blog and part of the community I’ve developed through time and making an extra effort to reach out and intimately connect with each of you. The payoff is huge, what I’ve accomplished in a few months is all the proof I need.

  • Stuart Foster Reply

    Ok, the drinks thing killed me. Probably the best analogy for adoption of social media that I have ever heard.

    • Matt Reply

      Glad you enjoyed that Stuart. What I actually meant is the drinks only enhance the overall sexiness I’ve got going on up in here. Right, right…

  • Stuart Foster Reply

    Ok, the drinks thing killed me. Probably the best analogy for adoption of social media that I have ever heard.

    • Matt Reply

      Glad you enjoyed that Stuart. What I actually meant is the drinks only enhance the overall sexiness I’ve got going on up in here. Right, right…

  • Sam Reply

    This post is totally relevant to my life right now. I am a living, breathing example of one of those ‘community managers’ that you mentioned. A major part of my job is to execute my company’s social media marketing strategies. In fact, my Web savvy is one of the reasons I was hired in the first place.

    The Internet is such a valuable tool. Thanks to social media, we are able to reach so many more people than we would without it. We’re also reaching different kinds of people. It’s like how a teacher struggles with finding a way to reach the visual learners, the auditory learners, and the tactile learners. You have to employ a multi-pronged approach and understand that people digest information differently. Social media serves that purpose.

    That said, it can get very overwhelming, and it’s difficult to measure the success of social media campaigns. There are ways, it’s just a learning process. I really enjoyed this post, great insight!

    • Matt Reply

      Sam, you are exactly right – there are more than two ways to skin a cat (I think that’s the expression). The challenge is, getting people to break away from what they’re used to and accept a new tactic. So many businesses are content on traditional forms of marketing (regardless of their effectiveness) and are extremely reluctant to implement new ideas into their routine (again, change is inconvenient). The same can be said for a blogger who refuses to get on Twitter because he/she thinks it’s lame, even though it’s an amazing way to drive traffic and enhance your community (this was me 6 months ago).

      I’m not sure what experience you have in dealing directly with clients – but how does your firm approach (if they do at all) a potential client who is hesitant about jumping on the social media bandwagon? I’m interested in hearing some real life ‘social media selling’ examples.

  • Sam Reply

    This post is totally relevant to my life right now. I am a living, breathing example of one of those ‘community managers’ that you mentioned. A major part of my job is to execute my company’s social media marketing strategies. In fact, my Web savvy is one of the reasons I was hired in the first place.

    The Internet is such a valuable tool. Thanks to social media, we are able to reach so many more people than we would without it. We’re also reaching different kinds of people. It’s like how a teacher struggles with finding a way to reach the visual learners, the auditory learners, and the tactile learners. You have to employ a multi-pronged approach and understand that people digest information differently. Social media serves that purpose.

    That said, it can get very overwhelming, and it’s difficult to measure the success of social media campaigns. There are ways, it’s just a learning process. I really enjoyed this post, great insight!

    • Matt Reply

      Sam, you are exactly right – there are more than two ways to skin a cat (I think that’s the expression). The challenge is, getting people to break away from what they’re used to and accept a new tactic. So many businesses are content on traditional forms of marketing (regardless of their effectiveness) and are extremely reluctant to implement new ideas into their routine (again, change is inconvenient). The same can be said for a blogger who refuses to get on Twitter because he/she thinks it’s lame, even though it’s an amazing way to drive traffic and enhance your community (this was me 6 months ago).

      I’m not sure what experience you have in dealing directly with clients – but how does your firm approach (if they do at all) a potential client who is hesitant about jumping on the social media bandwagon? I’m interested in hearing some real life ‘social media selling’ examples.

  • Chelsie Reply

    I’m glad you wrote this, Matt. I’m attempting to convince several folks of ROI for social networking and SEO–difficult when all they perceive is an unfamiliar world of keystrokes.
    For those who don’t see the forest through the tweets (if you will), you have to present as much evidence as possible that they aren’t wasting their time. I’ll pass on your thoughts ;)

    Sam- so right; Why wouldn’t you approach your customers according to their interests/needs/etc? Such specialization is God’s gift to business…if used well.

    • Matt Reply

      It’s a challenge – that is for sure Chelsie – I hope my words of wisdom here can aid in your ‘social media sales pitch’. As you said – there are limitless opportunities and the ability to pinpoint and execute marketing plans to your exact target demographic doing very little research is invaluable to any company. For smaller businesses, the social web is one of, if not the best way to specialize your services and combat the ‘big guys’. Look at all the local coffee shops on Twitter – they enhance their image by interacting with their consumers, which is something our generation demands. If a company (or individual) is willing to reach out to us, we’re more than willing to sing their praises and encourage others to do the same.

  • Chelsie Reply

    I’m glad you wrote this, Matt. I’m attempting to convince several folks of ROI for social networking and SEO–difficult when all they perceive is an unfamiliar world of keystrokes.
    For those who don’t see the forest through the tweets (if you will), you have to present as much evidence as possible that they aren’t wasting their time. I’ll pass on your thoughts ;)

    Sam- so right; Why wouldn’t you approach your customers according to their interests/needs/etc? Such specialization is God’s gift to business…if used well.

    • Matt Reply

      It’s a challenge – that is for sure Chelsie – I hope my words of wisdom here can aid in your ‘social media sales pitch’. As you said – there are limitless opportunities and the ability to pinpoint and execute marketing plans to your exact target demographic doing very little research is invaluable to any company. For smaller businesses, the social web is one of, if not the best way to specialize your services and combat the ‘big guys’. Look at all the local coffee shops on Twitter – they enhance their image by interacting with their consumers, which is something our generation demands. If a company (or individual) is willing to reach out to us, we’re more than willing to sing their praises and encourage others to do the same.

  • Rebecca Reply

    Social media is a tool and like other tools you can measure it’s success. I think part of the problem in convincing people of it’s value is this perception that somehow the results are intangible. If that’s the case, you’re probably not doing it right.

    And as a plug for web-web vs web-nonweb relationships, I have to say when I dated those who didn’t get the web world, they held me back. Dating someone that gets it doesn’t preclude you from having a life. Depending on who you are, it might even make it easier :)

    • Matt Reply

      Rebecca, thanks for coming by and sharing some thoughts. I agree that there are ways to measure the success of social media plans. But, with that being said, a lot of the benefits are intangible – enhanced brand perception, community interaction – these things are great and can (and should) result in dollars, but are difficult to measure. How does someone who has forever been used to traditional advertising and marketing mediums take the leap of faith into the social-media web. We can preach clickthroughs, traffic, feedback via online surveys, email sign-ups. I think the challenge is parallel with urging someone to try (anything) new – there is going to be that hesitation and reluctance that has to be overcome.

      On the relationship note – to each his own – my fiancé ‘gets’ the web world – she’s just not an avid Twitter and blogging junkie like me – if you can find someone that you’ll coexist with both online and offline, great – I know it CAN be done and everyone is different, but in many cases, opposites (not necessarily polar) do attract.

      • Rebecca Reply

        I preach conversion, sales, results. Advertising and marketing’s benefits are just as intangible. P&G spends billions (billlions!) of dollars on advertising and marketing each year without knowing who they’re reaching, if a sample converted a customer for good, or anything at all about their customers really.

        The power of social media is that it’s one of the first step towards non-interruptive, personalized marketing. Where customers invite companies to be part of the conversation and into their lives.

        Most companies get this and rearing to have access to such a world. They just need the guidance on how to do it right.

        • Matt Reply

          I agree – businesses need those people who ‘get it’ to guide them through the vast realm of social media. I think we’re on the same page here. The benefits may be intangible (in some sense of the word) – Businesses interacting, and LIVING within their communities enhances brand image and raises awareness, which is difficult to calculate – but spending the time to build REAL relationships with your consumers/fans/vendors will pay huge dividends (mucho dinero).

          The REAL challenge is getting people to shy away from the traditional and jump on board the wave of new and innovative marketing tools. As you said, it’s folks like us who can provide the guidance that makes that transition a pain-free process.

  • Rebecca Reply

    Social media is a tool and like other tools you can measure it’s success. I think part of the problem in convincing people of it’s value is this perception that somehow the results are intangible. If that’s the case, you’re probably not doing it right.

    And as a plug for web-web vs web-nonweb relationships, I have to say when I dated those who didn’t get the web world, they held me back. Dating someone that gets it doesn’t preclude you from having a life. Depending on who you are, it might even make it easier :)

    • Matt Reply

      Rebecca, thanks for coming by and sharing some thoughts. I agree that there are ways to measure the success of social media plans. But, with that being said, a lot of the benefits are intangible – enhanced brand perception, community interaction – these things are great and can (and should) result in dollars, but are difficult to measure. How does someone who has forever been used to traditional advertising and marketing mediums take the leap of faith into the social-media web. We can preach clickthroughs, traffic, feedback via online surveys, email sign-ups. I think the challenge is parallel with urging someone to try (anything) new – there is going to be that hesitation and reluctance that has to be overcome.

      On the relationship note – to each his own – my fiancé ‘gets’ the web world – she’s just not an avid Twitter and blogging junkie like me – if you can find someone that you’ll coexist with both online and offline, great – I know it CAN be done and everyone is different, but in many cases, opposites (not necessarily polar) do attract.

      • Rebecca Reply

        I preach conversion, sales, results. Advertising and marketing’s benefits are just as intangible. P&G spends billions (billlions!) of dollars on advertising and marketing each year without knowing who they’re reaching, if a sample converted a customer for good, or anything at all about their customers really.

        The power of social media is that it’s one of the first step towards non-interruptive, personalized marketing. Where customers invite companies to be part of the conversation and into their lives.

        Most companies get this and rearing to have access to such a world. They just need the guidance on how to do it right.

        • Matt Reply

          I agree – businesses need those people who ‘get it’ to guide them through the vast realm of social media. I think we’re on the same page here. The benefits may be intangible (in some sense of the word) – Businesses interacting, and LIVING within their communities enhances brand image and raises awareness, which is difficult to calculate – but spending the time to build REAL relationships with your consumers/fans/vendors will pay huge dividends (mucho dinero).

          The REAL challenge is getting people to shy away from the traditional and jump on board the wave of new and innovative marketing tools. As you said, it’s folks like us who can provide the guidance that makes that transition a pain-free process.

  • Sarah Reply

    I think it’s hard not to use social networks anymore. Look at all the newspapers, magazines, radio and tv stations that are drying up? If you want to do business, anymore it has to be done via the net.

    Great post!

    • Matt Reply

      Agreed that the ‘old-school’ mediums are a dying breed, most of them are incorporating the web into their repertoire in some regard. Thanks for coming by Sarah – I look forward to what you have brewing over on ‘Miss Virtual Reality’.

  • Sarah Reply

    I think it’s hard not to use social networks anymore. Look at all the newspapers, magazines, radio and tv stations that are drying up? If you want to do business, anymore it has to be done via the net.

    Great post!

    • Matt Reply

      Agreed that the ‘old-school’ mediums are a dying breed, most of them are incorporating the web into their repertoire in some regard. Thanks for coming by Sarah – I look forward to what you have brewing over on ‘Miss Virtual Reality’.

  • C. Zimmermann Reply

    You’re right. About everything. The blank stares from the friends who don’t get it. The need for building relationships to create sales. Pinpointing the target demographic. Taking the time to build an online community. (Business Know-How, the company I work for, has been building its online community for 20 years, starting with a roundtable on GEnie.) It’s true that you can’t prove a blog post sparked a sale. But when people visit your site, with Google Analytics or You-Tube Statistics, you can prove where they’re coming from. Macy’s doesn’t ask if you saw their ad for shirts in the New York Times or GQ. But Google does. We have never had so many tools, we have never had such a captive audience, we have never had the ability to jump on an opportunity so quickly as we do now. But you can’t just throw money at it. You have to have quality content. You have to keep a sharp eye on the horizon. And you have to be prepared to act, and react, with the same speed as your audience. You, Matt, are doing all of that, which is why you will succeed.

    • Matt Reply

      You make a great point. There are a number of tools out there to measure the success rate of our online marketing efforts – the ability to pinpoint and streamline a marketing campaign directly toward a target demographic is a huge benefit of the online medium. As you said, content is key. Without quality content, people will see right through you. I think this is the toughest selling point to someone who is not yet involved in the world of social media – it’s a real time investment to develop, nurture, and grow an online community around your brand. But once you have it, once the quality time has been put in, the payoff can be huge.

  • C. Zimmermann Reply

    You’re right. About everything. The blank stares from the friends who don’t get it. The need for building relationships to create sales. Pinpointing the target demographic. Taking the time to build an online community. (Business Know-How, the company I work for, has been building its online community for 20 years, starting with a roundtable on GEnie.) It’s true that you can’t prove a blog post sparked a sale. But when people visit your site, with Google Analytics or You-Tube Statistics, you can prove where they’re coming from. Macy’s doesn’t ask if you saw their ad for shirts in the New York Times or GQ. But Google does. We have never had so many tools, we have never had such a captive audience, we have never had the ability to jump on an opportunity so quickly as we do now. But you can’t just throw money at it. You have to have quality content. You have to keep a sharp eye on the horizon. And you have to be prepared to act, and react, with the same speed as your audience. You, Matt, are doing all of that, which is why you will succeed.

    • Matt Reply

      You make a great point. There are a number of tools out there to measure the success rate of our online marketing efforts – the ability to pinpoint and streamline a marketing campaign directly toward a target demographic is a huge benefit of the online medium. As you said, content is key. Without quality content, people will see right through you. I think this is the toughest selling point to someone who is not yet involved in the world of social media – it’s a real time investment to develop, nurture, and grow an online community around your brand. But once you have it, once the quality time has been put in, the payoff can be huge.

  • rikin Reply

    Love the tip about dating someone whose not a web-junkie, my girlfriend reminds me of the real world all the time and it actually makes me better at what I do.

    Professionally, I’m chief preacher of social media at a semi-important media company yet often proving the value with metrics and tangibles becomes difficult. Most of social media’s value does lie in the intangible but there are a few tactical things you can do to show its worth. Regardless, my point is that the things that move you in life are often intangible but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth it. Love your points in this post, now I’m going to make my girlfriend read it to prove I’m not the only dork around.

    • Matt Reply

      @Rikin. Haha, well thank you for slapping the ‘dork’ label on me. But who am I kidding, you guys had already pinned me with that – I embrace the dorkiness. And you make a good point – just because many of the benefits are somewhat intangible and difficult to measure doesn’t mean they’re not worth it. The challenge is convincing companies that the time invested will lead to positive results – it’s overcoming that ‘it won’t happen in a day’ hesitation that many skeptics have. It takes time to build and grow an online community around your brand (either personal or professional).

  • rikin Reply

    Love the tip about dating someone whose not a web-junkie, my girlfriend reminds me of the real world all the time and it actually makes me better at what I do.

    Professionally, I’m chief preacher of social media at a semi-important media company yet often proving the value with metrics and tangibles becomes difficult. Most of social media’s value does lie in the intangible but there are a few tactical things you can do to show its worth. Regardless, my point is that the things that move you in life are often intangible but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth it. Love your points in this post, now I’m going to make my girlfriend read it to prove I’m not the only dork around.

    • Matt Reply

      @Rikin. Haha, well thank you for slapping the ‘dork’ label on me. But who am I kidding, you guys had already pinned me with that – I embrace the dorkiness. And you make a good point – just because many of the benefits are somewhat intangible and difficult to measure doesn’t mean they’re not worth it. The challenge is convincing companies that the time invested will lead to positive results – it’s overcoming that ‘it won’t happen in a day’ hesitation that many skeptics have. It takes time to build and grow an online community around your brand (either personal or professional).

  • Noah Weiner Reply

    “Don’t make people think that you care, actually care!” A truer statement need not be spoken. That sums it up nicely. Of course, the numbers don’t hurt. I’ve helped businesses commit to social networking through sharing some stats about the expectations of the public to “see” companies have a web presence in social media (good Cone Business study here: http://www.coneinc.com/content1182).

    Thanks for the useful post.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      There are going to be some ‘intangible’ factors when it comes to presenting Social Media ROI – but there are also a lot of tools out there to measure. The web, as a whole, is probably the most measurable marketing medium out there (with adwords, analytics, etc) but social media is still one of those somewhat un-measurable ‘relationship building’ tools.

      Men, a much sought-after target in the online space, are twice as likely as women to interact frequently (one or more times per week) with companies via social media (33% to 17%, respectively).

      An interesting point in the article you shared – I would have figured that women still made up the vast majority of social media users – there are clearly some huge opportunities for businesses to take advantage of in the world of social media.

  • Noah Weiner Reply

    “Don’t make people think that you care, actually care!” A truer statement need not be spoken. That sums it up nicely. Of course, the numbers don’t hurt. I’ve helped businesses commit to social networking through sharing some stats about the expectations of the public to “see” companies have a web presence in social media (good Cone Business study here: http://www.coneinc.com/content1182).

    Thanks for the useful post.

    • Matt Cheuvront Reply

      There are going to be some ‘intangible’ factors when it comes to presenting Social Media ROI – but there are also a lot of tools out there to measure. The web, as a whole, is probably the most measurable marketing medium out there (with adwords, analytics, etc) but social media is still one of those somewhat un-measurable ‘relationship building’ tools.

      Men, a much sought-after target in the online space, are twice as likely as women to interact frequently (one or more times per week) with companies via social media (33% to 17%, respectively).

      An interesting point in the article you shared – I would have figured that women still made up the vast majority of social media users – there are clearly some huge opportunities for businesses to take advantage of in the world of social media.

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